Why you should care
Because TV ads are falling by the wayside, so why not buy the clothing worn on shows?
Salvador Perez says his agent is a stickler, not that he’s complaining: Because said agent has decreed that every mention of her client in the press (and there are many) must include a photograph, I’ve already seen Perez, and his designs, a bajillion times on my computer screen. When he walks into the coffee shop on Universal’s lot, it’s like seeing an old friend. Or a paparazzi favorite.
The costume designer is decked out and over the top: tweed hat, brown collared shirt, bracelets and rings, and glasses that make you look twice, with another pair tucked in his shirt pocket. For him, it’s everyday wear. Perez, who is president of the Costume Designers Guild, first made a name for himself by outfitting some of Hollywood’s most iconic characters, but now his career is taking a new turn. After years of high-profile costume-design projects like Veronica Mars and Pitch Perfect (the original and the sequel), he’s the newest need-to-know name in the fashion industry.
The Mindy Project’s most devoted fans know Perez as the guy who dresses Mindy Kaling, both on-camera and on the red carpet. Using the show’s popularity as a launchpad, he has blurred the division between costume designer and fashion designer, creating namesake lines for BaubleBar and Gilt. “In the costumes he designs, there are literally no shortcuts taken,” Kaling says in an email. “It’s meticulous and labor intensive, and the end product shows it.”
I was a 14-year-old boy taking a sewing class. I was completely freaked out.
Although Perez’s level of business savvy is less than common in the costume designing community, designing for TV and movies is increasingly becoming a way to break into the fashion industry. Take Mad Men, which inspired a Banana Republic line, or Scandal, which did the same with a collection at the Limited. And costuming is poised to go one step further and become the future of advertising on television. As ad blockers quash ad revenues, interactive ads are being developed to allow viewers to scroll over and click on items like clothing, and go straight to the shopping cart. The market is there for TV to be a powerful store, says Go Fug Yourself’s Jessica Morgan: “If you see someone wearing something cute, you go out and buy it.” Straight-to-cart TV costuming would cut out the middleman, and Perez knows it. “It’s the future of commerce,” he says. “People want instant gratification.”
Perez couldn’t have started further from the red carpet, though. He grew up in California in a 13,000-person town, where his father and two of his brothers are mechanics. He bucked that trend and spent four years in sewing class in high school (he told his parents that the mysterious course on his report card was a science class). “I was a 14-year-old boy taking a sewing class. I was completely freaked out,” Perez says. He attended the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles but didn’t graduate, choosing instead to spend his time sewing in workrooms. Though Perez wanted to be a fashion designer — he thought costumes would be a “temporary” stop on the way to a fashion line — working in a vintage shop where costume designers sourced their clothing led to a gig and then another gig, then Veronica Mars, then Think Like a Man, where Kaling saw his work and gunned for him to work on The Mindy Project. Sure, he was hesitant at first to join the project (OB-GYNs, burnout), but it has turned into his dream job.
Perez and Kaling’s BFF status isn’t a secret. “I’ll put it this way: My fittings with Sal are the part of my job I look forward to the most,” Kaling says. Perez is a fast talker, speaking in hyperbole and with bravado — the perfect foil to Kaling’s persona. In The Mindy Project’s costume trailer, a photo of Perez, Kaling, and a few other show staffers decorates one wall. Social media has completely changed costume designing — the people who used to toil in the background now interact with fans — and Perez uses it to spread his brand. He and Kaling are a powerful pair: She Instagrams an outfit and it sells out in minutes; she wears one of his gown on the red carpet and the press is all over it. That press is important to his hustle, and so is the popularity of the shows he works on. And yet, Perez isn’t looking to go full-blown fashion designer, at least not in a Calvin Klein way.
That’s probably a good thing. While the worlds may seem similar, they’re quite opposite in practice. “You have different contacts and your actual work schedule is very different,” says Go Fug Yourself’s Morgan. And the jury’s still out on whether or not entertainment fandom will drive retail numbers without fail. (Perez questions that people are buying his coats because Mindy wore them: “If I designed ugly coats and Mindy wore them, no one would want them,” he says.)
On the lot, the security guards greet Perez as the “famous designer!” He laughs and launches into a story about a fan in Italy who recognized him on the street as the designer for The Mindy Project. “Are you Salvador Perez?” she asked. He was halfway around the world from his home base, but the woman had seen him before.